Antoni Puigverd, 22/09/2021
For years, the independentists have invited the Catalans to choose between Spain and Catalonia. They do it, they say, to ensure, not only the national identity and the Catalan economy, but also to ensure the future of Catalan. Much is said about the economic and social consequences of the process. But almost never from its linguistic derivatives, which are very worrying. One piece of information speaks for itself: according to the Generalitat’s survey of linguistic uses (2018), the habitual use of Catalan has fallen to 19.6% among the youngest Barcelonians.
Catalan nationalism with philological roots has always maintained (Els Marges Manifesto, 1979) that only an independent state can prevent the extinction of Catalan. It is an understandable thesis, since, for many centuries (and not only in the Franco regime), the Catalan was persecuted, mocked or mistreated by the Spanish State. It is natural to desire a state that does not hate, but loves and protects one’s own language. It is known, however, that an independent state alone does not guarantee the survival of a language, as the Irish case shows. Since 1922, Ireland has had Gaelic as a state language, which, however, tends to a residual or symbolic use, since the habitual language of the Irish is English. Gaelic had many more speakers before independence; and that reminds us that small languages survive, more than for the protection of a state, thanks to the social prestige they achieve.
Urging to choose between mom and dad, nationalism expels potential speakers
Catalan is an unusual success story based on the loyalty of the middle classes and, above all, on the prestige it achieved during the 19th and 20th centuries. In very adverse circumstances, the prestige of the language was more powerful than the state’s desire to repress it. Newcomers to Catalonia perceived the value of Catalan, an instrument of collective integration and a good social lift. Now, this value is no longer enough: social networks, the internet and globalization reinforce languages with many speakers (English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese) while damaging the average type and, of course, the smallest. That is why it is so important that the Spanish audiovisual law protects the use of Catalan (thinking about content platforms).
The discussion around this legal protection (that the Catalan has the State in favor) cannot, however, overshadow two errors of the independence movement. First: despite the many millions they receive, TV3 channels have incomprehensibly lost the battle of modernity. Second: if the Catalanism of the 70-80s seduced the newcomers with a proposal for inclusion, the independence movement is expelling many possible speakers, urging them to choose between mother and father, that is: between two feelings of belonging. We do not assess now whether to raise the dilemma Catalonia vs. Spain is a political progress or a setback. What is clear is that for the language it is a suicidal dilemma.